Dictionary makers Collins have removed a selection of lesser-used words from their smaller dictionaries. These uncommon words have been tracked in recent usage and the least-used ones will now only be marked obsolete and removed from current editions of dictionaries.
Some of the words to be removed are:
“wittol”– a man who tolerates his wife’s infidelity, which has not been much used since the 1940s.
“drysalter” – a dealer in certain chemical products and foods.
“alienism” – the study and treatment of mental illness.
“cyclogiro” – a type of aircraft propelled by rotating blades.
“charabanc” – a motor coach.
“stauroscope” – an optical instrument for studying the crystal structure of minerals under polarized light
Obviously, some of these terms refer to things that are no longer in use, but as they may still be helpful to historians and other experts, they will remain in the most comprehensive dictionaries (but not your average household edition).
Full article: Guardian.
A while ago, I wrote about the SarcMark, a proposed new punctuation mark to indicate that someone was being sarcastic. My conclusion was that people just wouldn’t get it. They would have to have it explained to them, and I sincerely doubt that someone would want to pay for the privilege of using it.
The latest attempt at expressing sarcasm in a universal form is Sartalics. Unlike regular Italics, Sartalics lean to the left to indicate that someone is being sarcastic. A team of design interns decided that it was time to introduce an easily-recognisable way to demonstrate sarcasm via Twitter, Facebook, and any text media. They hope to encourage, via a http://sartalics.com/, major companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, Apple and Tumblr, to enable people to lean their words the other way.
The designers want Sartalics to be able to be used with any font, instead of it being its own font. I give them credit for their efforts, and I think that Sartalics will be much easier to understand than the SarcMark, but considering Facebook hasn’t even allowed basic HTML editing (e.g. bold, italics) yet, I think it will be a while down the road.
Click here to learn more, or here to join the petition.
Dinosaur Comics are one of my favourite webcomics, because they manage to be both funny and smart (and they have dinosaurs!). A recent comic discussed the sexism inherent in some words of English. It may be a carry-over from times well past, but there’s no denying that the feminine versions of many words have more negative connotations than the masculine versions.
The examples from the comic are:
Master/Mistress - both can be in charge of something, but a mistress can also be an extramarital lover (what is the male version of this word?).
Sir/Madam - both are polite ways of addressing someone, but a madam can also be a negative word meaning someone who runs a brothel, or as a descriptor for a difficult female (especially a child, e.g. “She is being a right little madam.”).
Governor/Governess – a governess should surely be the female version of a governor, but instead it is a glorified babysitter’s job. You wouldn’t catch Sarah Palin being called the Governess of Alaska.
T-Rex also uses the word polysemous, which means to have many different meanings. Feminine nouns seem to be polysemous more than masculine nouns.
Is it fair? Not really. But it seems that in order to address this problem, people are more inclined either to use the masculine term for both genders, or to create a new gender-neutral term (e.g. postal worker instead of postman, server instead of waiter/waitress). Perhaps some of the gender-specific words will fall out of usage altogether.
In the meantime, go read some Dinosaur Comics.
Memrise is a new vocabulary-learning website that I’m already a bit addicted to. It takes the standard spaced repetition method (you see the same word at increasing intervals until you know it consistently), but adds a cute theme. After you choose a word list to learn from, each new word is seen as a seed that gets planted when you first view it. After you ‘plant’ it, you ‘water’ it by answering multiple choice questions. Eventually you will know it well enough to ‘harvest’ it, so it moves from your greenhouse to your garden. In your virtual garden you can see all the words you know, growing happily. The system allows you to plant new words or take care of your wilting ones (the ones you haven’t seen in a while, or that you didn’t know the last time you looked at them). It’s a cute way to keep track of your vocabulary progress, and email reminders nudge you towards regular ‘watering’.
The best part about the site, in my opinion, is that it includes user-generated mnemonics to help you remember words, meanings, and pronunciations. A lot of them are very silly, but the silliest mnemonics are the ones that are the easiest to remember. Some of them are animations, showing how a picture forms a word (very useful for Chinese characters), and some of them are just ways of relating the English word to the target word. You can vote mnemonics up or down, and the most popular ones are the ones that you see first.
At the moment, the featured languages are Mandarin Chinese and SAT English, but there are a lot of other languages in Beta (using the system, but all user-generated content). If you don’t find a word list that you like, you can create your own.
It still has some bugs to sort out, but I can’t wait to see new features. Hopefully it will work on my phone eventually, so I can take care of my little word plants from wherever I am. Give it a try, and see if you like word gardening!